Or, "If it's Sunday, this must be Suffolk..."
Well, it wouldn't be a British Bank Holiday weekend if the weather didn't go all precipitous for 24 hours, eh? And this one was no exception.
Over breakfast, we made plans to head down to Minsmere, the RSPB reserve on the Suffolk coast. Our reasoning being that there was a cafe, some hides, cafe again, some more hides and finally the cafe once more. It didn't work out quite like that but if you add "pub" and "yet more hides" to that list, then you've pretty much nailed our day. It was rather wet and windy for the duration, but we weren't going to let that spoil our fun.
Before we left the breakfast table, however, there was still time for my Un-Jubilee Spirit to crash and burn. Jane kindly offered to provide a flask of coffee for the day, an invitation that we gratefully accepted. On leaving the B+B, into a persistent drizzle, we were presented with a large Thermos, emblazoned with the Union Flag. Our Lass did chuckle.
Forty five minutes later, we arrived at a remarkably quiet Minsmere. Either the weather or the weekend's celebrations were having a marked effect on visitor numbers. Following the obligatory pit stop, we set off into the weather and along the North Wall, headed straight for the beach. We paused briefly by a gaggle of birdwatchers armed with scopes, who were intent on glimpsing a pair of Stone Curlews that must've been half a mile away. Our puny x8 bins just weren't up to the job, so we carried on regardless, stopping only for a brief view of a Marsh Harrier and a Reed Warbler.
At the beach, the tide was in, which graphically illustrated the precarious nature of the whole reserve. Only two low dune banks separate the North Sea from the freshwater scrapes, meres and dykes of Minsmere. Scary.
Traversing south between these two banks, gave us a bit of shelter from the wind and rain. We then nipped into a hide and spent a pleasant (and dry) half hour watching Avocets, Common and Little Terns, Shelduck, Swifts, Sand Martins and most of the Black-headed Gulls in Christendom out on the East Scrape.
Continuing around the reserve, we turned back north west at the sluice and were rewarded with a view of a Cuckoo as it flew over the reed beds. To the west of the path, we spotted two male Garganey on one of the pools, then we rounded a corner into the shelter of some bushes and had a wonderful surprise. This small sheltered spot was teeming with Swallows, Swifts and House Martins, all busy feeding on the insects blown into the lee of the tall vegetation. We stood, tucked into the bushes, as hirundine after hirundine flew passed our noses, either oblivious or uncaring of our presence.
There was only one way to celebrate that highlight. Lunch in the cafe. Cottage pie and salad, followed by apple pie and custard. Most welcome on a cold, damp day.
You will have gathered by now, dear reader, that I hadn't bothered to take along my camera, so what happened next was entirely predictable. Heading back out into the weather, we made our way to the Bittern Hide, where Our Lass promptly located a Bittern, feeding in an area of low reeds. This was easily the best view that we have had of this iconic fen species and we watched it for about 15 minutes until it moved back into the cover of the tall reed stems and immediately faded from sight.
As it was now mid-afternoon, the Island Mere Hide was heaving with folk, so we spun on our heels and re-traced our steps. Another circuit of the scrapes beckoned, though the rain was falling harder than ever. We fortified ourselves from the Flask of Jubilation and then set off again along the North Wall. This time, we visited some of the hides we'd missed out during the previous lap, where we were helped with the ID of a pair of Knot by a kindly Geordie birder and had a pair of Pintail pointed out to us by another group. Thanks, guys!
As evening approached, we drove a few miles inland to Eastbridge and spent a pleasant hour or so in the Eels Foot Inn, before nipping back to Minsmere for a less frantic visit to the Island Mere Hide. A few Marsh Harriers and a passing Hobby kept us amused, then just as we were leaving, a Bittern flew over our heads, as it crossed the reed bed.
The day was rounded off perfectly with a Barn Owl sighting over the Loddon bypass, followed swiftly by another as we drove into the B+B car park.